LOS ANGELES – After four games and two losses, the Clippers have discovered one critical glitch in their game.
They don’t know how to play from behind.
Whether it’s energy or execution or defensive lapses, they have problems catching up when they give up early leads. It was their downfall Saturday in a loss to Golden State and it happened again Monday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We go to the drawing board tomorrow,” Chris Paul said after the Clippers dropped a 108-101 decision to the Cavs at Stapes Center.
It’s not a matter of starting over; it’s getting more energy from the start, then carrying it into the latter portions of games. In their past two games, the Clippers haven’t done either.
They gave up 31 points in the first quarter, fell behind by seven at halftime, then made a late charge in the final five minutes. But soon after Jamal Crawford tied the game 94-94 with a three-pointer, the Cavs regained the lead. Rookie Dion Waiters made two successive three-point shots – and strutted in front of the Clippers bench after the second one – and Anderson Varejao sank a shot from the free-throw line to put Cleveland ahead 102-96.
That was essentially the Clippers’ last and only threat.
“We need to do a better job of keeping the energy high like we did in the fourth quarter,” said Blake Griffin, who had 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. “We’re capable of doing it.”
The Cavaliers were crazy good from three-point range, making 14 of 29, including five in the final period. Waiters and point guard Kyrie Irving combined for 52 points and were 11 of 19 from three-point distance.
But as Paul acknowledged afterward, the Clippers didn’t do a capable shot of putting pressure on the Cavs from outside.
“Our defensive principles are not to give up the corner three,” Paul said. “There’s no help off the corner, and that’s my fault. I take full blame for the two threes I gave up at the end of the game.”
The Clippers also committed 25 turnovers, and as Paul said afterward, “You give up 25 turnovers you’re going to lose just about every time.”
But energy is something the Clippers can fix immediately, and they’ll have to. On Wednesday night, they face the San Antonio Spurs at Staples, the same team that swept them from the playoffs last season.
If they fall behind the Spurs, they’re likely to never catch them.
“Like I said last game, everything has to go perfect down the stretch when you’re chasing teams,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We might have a good possession, but then they hit a couple of shots and now you’re running out of time. That was the difference.”
After starting 2-0, the Clippers are now 2-2 and facing one of the better teams in the Western Conference on Wednesday. Their fast start has fizzled as quickly as it began.
They can fix things in a lot of ways, but one way is clear: Start fast, keep their energy high and finish strong. But that’s easier said than done.
“We just have to come out with the same intensity like we did in the second half,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “We’ve been turning it on late, and that’s been our problems these last two games.
“If we come out with that same intensity as the first half, we shouldn’t have a problem in the future.”